Due to my engineer-like traits of wanting to follow specifications, I do well at grammar. It’s relatively easy – there are rules, and you follow them. The rules are many, and sometimes may be vague or conflicting, but they are there. All one has to do is remember them and use them.
And likewise for the meanings of words. Words have specific meanings. When people are sloppy with their word choices and say things they didn’t mean, it annoys me. “You know what I meant” is a common excuse, but the reason we have a language is so that you can say the words that match what you mean and then everyone is clear on what you meant. If you can’t be bothered to say what you mean, why should I be the one to put forth effort in order to understand what you mean? Maybe that’s a valid excuse for a 3-year-old who is still learning words, but not for an adult who has completed his schooling.
There, now the groundwork for this post is out of the way, and I can get to the list of sayings that I’ve noticed people are having a hard time with. These are concepts more than spelling and grammar. Items in the spelling and grammar categories are things like lie/lay and effect/affect. Those are not hard either, people, but that’s a different topic.
- Wrong vs. Lying
“Are you saying I’m lying?” is a common retort one might hear when one corrects another. But most of the time, one is not accusing the other of fraud. In order for someone to be lying, he must know the truth but present something other than the truth. Presenting something that he believes to be the truth but is not the truth is not lying, simply an error.
I’ve noticed this more in politics than other areas of life – Senator So-and-so lied to us about such-and-such. Maybe he didn’t lie – maybe he was just wrong.
- Original vs. Unique
“That’s not original” is an accusation that is made against something that one has seen before. But original doesn’t mean no one else has made a similar item – that’s what unique means. Original means that one thought it up by oneself. Multiple people can think of the same thing independently and they would all be original but none would be unique.
- Flush Out vs. Flesh Out
I never thought much about this one, because it seemed obvious enough to me. But I’ve been noticing it more and more. And when I was in England recently, I noticed they always got it right.
Flush out is when you are trying to find something – think about the hunting dog who goes into the reeds to flush out the fowl.
Flesh out is when you are trying to fill in gaps – like adding flesh to a skeleton to get a complete body. Apply this to things like a writing outline – the outline is the skeleton and you flesh out the details of the story.
- Forward Slash vs. Back Slash
Can you not see which way the slash is leaning? If the slash is leaning to the right, it’s a forward slash. Because that’s the direction the text is going. And if the top of the slash is left of the bottom, it’s a back slash. The only valid excuse I can think of for getting this one wrong is if your native language is written right-to-left.
If you’re not sure, just say “slash” and people will type the right one.
- Try To vs. Try And
Trying to do something implies effort that may or may not be successful.
Trying and doing something implies effort and then success.
Why bother trying something and then doing something? Why not just do it? Yoda up – don’t try, just do.
Try to verb means one action – an attempt at verb.
Try and verb means two actions – an attempt first and then the verb.
The only time this is acceptable is if you really intend on a practice round of whatever it is you’re doing.
Alright, I’m stepping off my soapbox now.
To know wisdom and instruction,
To discern the sayings of understanding,